Civilians rescue worker, receive top Army safety award
June 12, 2014
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Two Army Civilians were recognized for their quick thinking and heroic efforts that may have saved the life of a co-worker, during a special awards ceremony held Thursday at the Ammunition Surveillance building.
David Kerley, quality assurance specialist ammunition surveillance, and his co-worker Gerald Picard, ammunition surveillance instructor, said the morning of Dec. 3 was relatively quiet. Little did they know, it would become one of the most frightening days they would experience in their careers working for the Logistics Readiness Center.
"One of our co-workers had gone home sick, but we didn't really think much of it," Kerley recalled. "I heard some banging and someone yelling, but I thought it was just someone working in the building."
After a few moments, Kerley decided to investigate the noise. He walked to Picard's office and asked where was their co-worker, Jason Sweeny. Picard replied that he thought Sweeny was in the bathroom. As Kerley approached the bathroom door, the kicking and shouts grew louder.
Sweeny, an ammunition surveillance instructor, had gone to use the shared bathroom, locking the deadbolt on the thick steel door. He was only in the room a matter of moments before he began to feel lightheaded.
"I started to feel funny and I fell forward and hit my chin," Sweeny recalled. "I was able to get up and look in the mirror to see how bad it was, and as soon as I stood up, I fell backward again."
Sweeny recalled regaining consciousness and realizing that he needed to stand and unlock the deadbolt, or no one would be able to come to his aid.
"I knew they would never be able to kick the door in, so I stood up just long enough to unlock it and then I fell back again," he said. "When I came to again, I started kicking the door and yelling."
"I went over to the bathroom door and asked Jason if he was alright," Kerley said.
Went Sweeny said no, Kerley pushed the door open to find him lying on the floor, bleeding from his chin injury. As Kerley stood up from examining Sweeny, he began to feel lightheaded.
Picard recalled that he had started to feel a little sick just before Kerley came into his office.
"I was sitting at my desk and had stomach pains and felt lightheaded," Picard said.
Hearing the commotion in the bathroom, Picard ran to help. As soon as he saw Sweeny on the floor and Kerley looking sick, he went to call for help. As he was phoning for assistance, Picard realized that carbon monoxide was likely responsible for the illness they were experiencing.
"When I went to call 911, I put two and two together," Picard said. "I told them somebody had passed out and then it hit me very suddenly. I slammed the phone down and said 'we've got to get out of here right now!'"
Picard ran back to the bathroom, where he and Kerley helped Sweeny up and carried him outside. Once outside the building, Kerley used his cell phone to call for help. He was later told that his speech was slurred as he reported the incident.
Soon, the three were transported by ambulance -- Kerley and Sweeny to Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, and Picard to Carthage Area Hospital. Sweeny was assessed and then transported to Upstate Medical University Hospital, Syracuse, where he spent 90 minutes in a hyperbaric chamber to improve his oxygen levels.
The three employees were treated and released. Emergency responders were sent the home of the fourth employee, who had left sick just before the carbon monoxide leak was discovered. He also was taken to the hospital to be assessed and treated.
It turned out that the highest concentration of carbon monoxide in the building was in the bathroom. Had Sweeny not made enough noise to alert his co-workers that something was wrong, things could have turned out much differently, said Ralph Martinez, Ammunition Supply Point supervisor.
"Most of these employees are prior military," Martinez said. "Their training helped them to act responsively in this situation."
Martinez also said that the three were a tight-knit team, who always looked out for one another. This camaraderie was never as important as it was during this incident, he said.
Diane Scott, chief of Operations and Plans Division for the Logistics Readiness Center, said that Kerley and Picard were not the only heroes that day. She credits Sweeny for having fought to alert his co-workers to the risk despite being physically incapacitated.
"They didn't just save (Sweeny)," she said. "They all saved each other. Three gentlemen went home to their families … thanks to (their) quick thinking."
During a small awards ceremony, Michael Levesque, chief of the Logistics Readiness Center, spoke of the qualities that make heroes.
"They are born in the heat of a serious incident, and they take action -- regardless of safety to themselves -- to save others," he said.
Col. David Wilson, commander of 406th Army Field Support Brigade, Fort Bragg N.C., accompanied by Master Sgt. Marc Marckx, 406th AFSB S3 noncommissioned officer in charge, helped to present the U.S. Army Safety Guardian Award to Kerley and Picard.
The U.S. Army Safety Guardian Award is the highest safety honor bestowed upon Civilians. It recognizes individuals whose extraordinary actions in an emergency eliminate or minimize loss, such as damage to Army property or injury to Army Personnel.
Wilson commended Kerley and Picard for their heroic and selfless efforts.
"You can tell that these are two good men, two good civil servants, and two good teammates who would risk their lives to take care of a fellow employee," he said. "That says a lot about you, and I am just proud to be in your presence."
Kerley and Picard each received a special plaque, as well as personalized letters from Gen. L Via, U.S. Army Materiel Command, and Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, U.S. Army Safety Command, thanking them for their selfless service.
Sweeny said he is extremely grateful to his Kerley and Picard for putting themselves at risk in order to help him.
"If they hadn't heard me kicking the door, I wouldn't be here today," he said. "My son and (Picard's) daughter are friends. They ran into each other after the incident and my son told her 'I love your dad for saving my dad.' I wouldn't be here without them."